SynAthina is a social innovation online platform for engaging members of the community in problem-solving and reform. Citizens and community groups can submit innovative ideas on how to make their city a better place to live in and are then connected to the relevant stakeholders that can support their efforts.
SynAthina is the social innovation online platform of the City of Athens for engaging citizens in problem-solving and reform. Citizens and community groups can submit innovative ideas on how to make their city a better place to live in and are then connected to the relevant government representatives, non-governmental organisations, and private businesses that can support their efforts. This support can take different forms. For example, Synathina can help mobilise the City Hall to update regulations, policies and procedures, as well as bring actors from the public and private sector together to cooperate and experiment with new solutions and ways of working.
Citizen engagement; Partnerships; Participation; Digital
From 2013 until nowadays (ongoing).
Scale(s) of the case analysed
Target audience and dimension
Domain(s) of application
Challenge addressed/ Problem-led
Impact to climate neutrality
SynAthina has changed the relationships between the community, the people, sponsors and the municipal government. One of the successes of the platform is that it connects citizens and community groups with donors, experts and municipality services to help execute ideas and projects. For instance, if traditional ways of working and processes are an obstacle for the emergence of innovative good ideas, the synAthina project team works with members of the City Hall to change or upgrade policies and processes, and help embed a culture of openness and flexibility with the human capacity of the city. synAthina also connects community groups with each other, as well as facilitates connections with potential sponsors, who may support the groups with volunteers, expertise, equipment and funding. Lastly, synAthina can also source support from municipality departments when needed. This has revolutionalised the way in which the government interacts with citizens and other stakeholders. This platform also facilitates connections with sponsors, who may support the groups by providing volunteers, experts, equipment or funding.
The case of SynAthina also stands out for allowing citizens and the municipality to co-design neighbourhoods. Athens has put a lot of effort in including everyone, including the unusual and disengaged suspects in decision-making processes. SynAthina has enabled citizens’ participation and engagement in several municipal and other climate change-related projects and initiatives. Adaptation to climate change and urban resilience in Athens are now addressed through horizontal, multi-stakeholder and resilience-building projects.
Another crucial element of SynAthina concerns its power to shape regulation. In fact, if outdated regulations are hindering the advancement of good ideas or solutions, the synAthina project team can harness innovation within the City Hall to update or change regulations, policies and procedures and incentivise the public and private sector to experiment in new ways of working and cooperating.
Context & Public policy of reference
Innovative approach(es) addressed
synAthina's approach stands out because it puts citizens at the centre of innovation. synAthina contributed to identifying grassroot initiatives and connect them. The platform has registered nearly 400 groups that have carried out more than 3,000 activities, from graffiti removal to organising gardening workshops. It also helped develop a culture of collaboration and communication between the city officials and civil society and activist groups (which was not common before), as well as cross-sector partnerships between the municipality and businesses, universities, foundations, and others.
SynAthina was initiated by the City of Athens. It was created in July 2013 and today comes under the Vice Mayoral Office for Civil Society and Innovation.
Stakeholder networks and organisational model
|City of Athens
|- Initiated and implemented the platform
|Citizens, NGOs, private institutions, City Services department
- Can upload volunteer activities on the website
- Can register as potential supporters and empower civil society initiatives
- Can use the physical space to organise participatory events and public workshops
-Can visit the City Hall offices and take part of the Open Mondays to communicate their ideas and projects receiving consultation and capacity building
|- The SynAthina team developed specific methods, tools and process such as an online platform, Open Mondays, open calls for ideas and proposals from the community groups, the SynAthina Kiosk.
|Public Engagement Officer
|- This is a role developed by the SynAthina team. It is a dedicated team member of SynAthina whose role is to document and actively network with community groups, encourage them to use the platform and connect them
Interaction between participants
Political: SynAthina had a strong political backing. This initiative sits under the Vice Mayoral Office for Civil Society and Innovation. In fact, the vice mayor Amalia Zepou helped spearhead Athens’ winning entry in the 2014 Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge, which provided the city with funding for synAthina. Moreover, the political vision of Mayor Kaminis, and his alignment of international efforts to strengthen democracy in the city were fundamental. He also promoted SynAthina inside the municipality.
Economic: The austerity measures and the economic crisis in Greece had an impact on the operational capacity of the government of Athens. The budget cuts and shrinking staff pushed Athens to find innovative solutions to do more with less resources available.
Social: A vibrant and creative civil society working to improve neighbourhoods and communities was key. They became protagonists when it came to providing solutions and bridging the services gaps.
Key inhibiting factors
Social: Bureacratic culture was a main barrier that Synathina has tried to address. Changing the culture takes time and effort.
Technical: Outdated regulations and practices constrain citizen activities.
Drawbacks/pros/cons of the solutions (after implementation)
- Number of city officials involved in collaborative mechanisms with civil society partners has increased
- Several regulations concerning the use of public spaces have been updated by the city council based on synAthina’s findings
- Digitalising the administration helped to crowdsource input from different stakeholders
- Synathina inspired the creation of the new Innovation Department
- The culture, communication and vocabulary of city officials changed. For example, ‘co-creation’ and ‘community groups’ have become key terms for them.
- SynAthina’s collaborative and co-creative approach has helped build trust and ensure the sustainability of the municipality’s new programmes
- In 2013 (synAthina’s inaugural year), 42 groups shared 208 activities on the City’s digital map. As of today, a total of 453 groups have posted 4,253 activities on synAthina in cooperation with 153 sponsors.
- The platform allowed the municipality to have direct access to what was going on at grassroots level, enabling officials to be better informed, understand the needs and be more flexible in responding to the citizens’ demands
Many Greek and European cities have contacted Athens to learn from and replicate their model.
SynAthina actively participates in international networks which exchange experience and knowledge, thus playing a leading part in a worldwide dialogue about innovation and the participation of citizens in local governance.
Main positive lessons/opportunities identified
- Mayoral support and commitment were key for the long-term success of this initiative
- Changing the organisational culture and valuing innovation has improved social cohesion
- Fostering partnerships is key but the right conditions need to be created. Connections cannot be prescripted but they need to emerge and develop independently.